Dieting may seem like the instinctive thing to do for many people who want to lose or maintain a healthy weight. But a new study from Finland suggests that regular meals are more helpful than dieting when it comes to accomplishing the latter task.
According to a news release posted Saturday on EurekAlert, a team of researchers from the University of Helsinki looked at the results from the FinnTwin 16 study, where over 4,900 young adults, both male, and female, answered questionnaires related to the variables that affect one’s weight. The participants were all 24-years-old at the time they took the surveys and were followed up with 10 years later.
In that one decade in between, most of the participants gained some weight, with the women gaining an average of 0.9 kilograms (2 pounds), and the men gaining slightly more, at 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds). Only 7.5 percent of the women and 3.8 percent of the men lost weight in between the survey and the follow-up. The researchers also noted some variables that affected the risk of weight gain for each gender, apart from eating habits. For the women, consumption of sugary drinks, childbirth, and “poor contentment with life” were among the factors, while men had a higher risk of gaining weight if they were smokers.
Traditionally, people are advised that a healthy diet and a regular exercise regimen are among the most important tools in weight management. But the new study suggests that having “regular eating habits” and not going on a diet might be a better way for men and women alike to maintain a healthy weight. The researchers also stressed that while it may seem counterintuitive, dieting could result in the opposite effect when people gain more weight and suffer from eating disorders.
“Generally speaking, weight management guidance often boils down to eating less and exercising more,” read a statement from researcher Ulla Karkkainen, a nutritional therapist at the University of Helsinki.
“In practice, people are encouraged to lose weight, whereas the results of our extensive population study indicate that losing weight is not an effective weight management method in the long run.”
When it comes to the best tools for weight management, the University of Helsinki researchers stressed that eating regularly is important, but added that it’s also recommended that people be cognizant of the factors that can affect their well-being and find “a more general sense of meaning in [their lives]” in order to keep their weight at healthy levels.
Around the same time the new research on weight management was published in the journal Eating Behaviors, nutrition and exercise scientist Kathleen Alleaume wrote an op-ed for News.com.au, encouraging people to “throw away the rulebook” and avoid overly strict diets in order to keep the pounds off. While she emphasized at several points that it’s still important to focus on eating healthy foods, she suggested that people should be making changes they can buy into, instead of negatively labeling foods, unnecessarily going hungry, or following overly restrictive diet rules that often lead to binging after such rules are violated.